What’s the difference between a speech and a salad bar?

I’m a big fan of Dorie Clark’s. I’ve worked with her, I’ve recommended her to clients. A more brilliant marketing and business strategist you could not find. And she gives a good speech, which may explain why she gives so many of them.

But…

I’ve got to disagree with her recent Harvard Business Review piece, “How to Give the Same Talk to Different Audiences.”

She advises speakers:

…it can be helpful to envision the sections of your speech as “modules” that you can shift and reshuffle as needed.

That advice needs to come with a warning label. Because you can’t just rearrange a speech, not without making other adjustments.

You can’t order a speech à la carte

A great speech hangs together from beginning to end – like a tasting menu at a three-star Michelin restaurant. Ask for the asparagus after dessert and you ruin the flow of the meal.

I’m not saying you can’t rearrange the elements of your speech. But if it’s a well-constructed speech, A transitions to B, which builds to C.

In other words, you’re telling a story—that’s what people will remember from your speech, the story you tell. And of course that story needs to contain these “modules” of ideas you want to convey. And you can’t just reshuffle parts of a story like it’s a deck of cards.

Avoid the word-salad bar

I once wrote for an executive – and seriously, once was more than enough for me – who treated his speeches like a salad bar. He wasn’t looking for a speech so much as a mise en place, the chopped-up veggies and other ingredients a chef has handy before the restaurant opens for the day so she has everything she needs to assemble a dish.

This executive expected the “writer” to present him not with a well thought-out speech, not with a story that built to a crescendo of anticipation, with the audience hanging on his every word.

a speech is not a saladNope, this executive wanted four buckets of words: one with options for his opening, one containing several stories he enjoyed telling, a third with assorted facts, and a final bucket with an array of inspirational quotes for the closing.

That’s not a speech; it’s a word-salad bar. When he stepped onstage to deliver his remarks, he would choose one piece from each bucket—whichever piece struck his fancy.

Now, I’m sure that’s not the kind of modular construction Dorie had in mind when she wrote the HBR piece. Dorie is a fine writer. When she moves chunks of a speech around, I’m sure she ties them together thematically; I’m sure she’s careful to make sure she’s still telling a coherent story.

But I worry that her readers might not understand the importance of the connective tissue that holds a speech together.


Want to improve your writing? Register for my 5×15 Writing Challenge. Write for 15 minutes a day between June 4th and 8th and I’ll donate $15 to Room to Read, a global literacy nonprofit.

Dorie Clark: How Writing a Book Can Score You a Job

Dorie Clark
Photo by Thitiwat Nookae

I’m thrilled to introduce you to today’s guest expert, Dorie Clark, a marketing strategist who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of business best-sellers Reinventing You and Stand Out, and she offers readers a free Stand Out Self-Assessment Workbook. Take her up on the offer (after you read this post). — Elaine

How Writing a Book Can Score You a Job

by Dorie Clark

What’s the best way to land your dream job? It certainly isn’t sending in a resume and waiting to hear back. Instead, Miranda Aisling Hynes – whom I profile in my new book Stand Out – used “inbound marketing” to ensure her future employer was dying to talk to her.

She dreamed of a career in arts management. But it’s a crowded and competitive field. For her master’s thesis in community art, instead of writing an ivory tower treatise, she self-published a manifesto on creativity, Don’t Make Art, Just Make Something (published under her middle name, Miranda Aisling). She wanted it to inspire regular people, not just practicing artists or those inside academia. The term “art” is loaded, she’d come to believe; it signified something rarefied that most people couldn’t imagine aspiring to. “But everyone is creative,” she says. “Whether they use that creativity is a different issue, but it’s an innate human skill like curiosity, and your creativity can manifest itself in any number of ways . . . Most people do want to be creative; they just had it squashed out of them at some point.”

She gave a copy of her book to a friend who worked at a local arts center; he passed along the copy to his boss after he’d finished reading it. When Hynes later applied for a job at the organization, the director was extremely enthusiastic, praising it during her interview and again in front of the entire staff when she went in for the second round. “The book definitely opened the door,” she says. She got the job.

She recognizes that self-publishing probably won’t make her rich or famous. “I think you have to have realistic expectations about what you’re going to get out of it,” she says. “It’s an entrance [for other people] to my ideas. I haven’t really made a profit; I’ve pretty much broken even.” But the book landed her the job, and is bringing her closer to her long-term vision of opening a “community art hotel” that connects visitors with local artists. “The more stuff you create—a blog, websites, books—the more articulate you become about your passion and purpose,” she says. “And the more articulate you become, the more people flock to your message.”

It’s about creating a variety of touch points that can draw people in and keep them engaged. Someone discovering her website might order a copy of her book, sign up for her e-newsletter, and perhaps start attending the regular art and music gatherings she hosts. “Instead of building the arts center and hoping the community will come,” she says, “I’m building the community first and hoping they’ll help me make the arts center.”

Writing your own book might seem like an enormous challenge. But you don’t have to dive into your masterpiece right away. Start by listening and learning about the major issues in your field, as you begin to formulate your own point of view. Then, begin to share your thoughts via blogging and social media. Finally, as you’ve built up a following that’s interested in your perspective—and asking for more—you can expand those concepts into a book that encapsulates your philosophy and how you see the world. That will be your calling card to attract like-minded people to you and your ideas, and to help ensure that they spread.

If someone hasn’t worked with you before, hiring you can feel like a significant risk. If it doesn’t work out, they may have wasted months and tens of thousands of dollars. But when someone reads your book – or even just hears about it and recognizes the thought and expertise that went into creating it – it gives them a far deeper understanding of who you are and how you think. That provides an extra level of reassurance that makes it easier for them to say yes to you.

So ask yourself, if a book could serve as a calling card for you, what message would you want it to convey? What does the world need to hear? Set aside an hour on your calendar sometime this week to brainstorm – maybe during a walk over lunch, or as you relax in the evening. As Hynes’ story shows, self-publishing a book may seem an unlikely route to winning your dream job – but because it helps you stand out from the competition, it’s a powerful one.


Time to kick your writing skills up a level? Join me (Elaine!) for my popular Writing Unbound program this October. A serious commitment, for people serious about change.

Buddhist philosophy 2017: Plant the damn tree already

Buddhist philosophyIt’s Buddhist philosophy, right? That saying about the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, but the second best time is now?

As we might say in my ancestral homeland, New Jersey:

Plant the damn tree already.

I’ve run into it a number of times this week—people (myself including) lamenting action that we should have taken long ago. But at least we’ve taken now.

There’s my friend the networking expert Robbie Samuels:

“I still remember how stressed I was just a few years ago about writing a single blog post – after getting feedback from several people and deliberating for weeks I finally posted it. I then asked Dorie [Clark] what to do next. She said write another blog post. Ha!”

Now, with many blog posts—and even his own podcast—under his belt, Robbie is getting ready to launch his very first book into the world at the end of this month.

A book! From a guy who had to deliberate “for weeks” about one measly blog post. I mean, I’m sure it was a valuable blog post—but it’s a tiny percentage of the words he’s put out into the world since then.

Then there’s one of my own writers. She’s never had a problem producing work, and she’s shared many pieces for discussion in class and in our writers’ group. But she was 20 full weeks into her studies with me before she read her work out loud in class. Like most things we dread, it turned out to be much more rewarding and much less stressful than she’d feared.

I need that Buddhist philosophy myself

I’m not immune to this fear-crastination. (I couldn’t decide which was more appropriate—”fear” or “procrastination—so I’m going with both.) I could have planted a grove the size of the Amazon rainforest by now.

Take my email list. And it wasn’t even writing the emails: I was completely terrified of even choosing a list management service. Why? Not a freaking clue. But I researched that decision like I was choosing a neurosurgeon.

If you’re stuck in that place, I offer this loving advice:

Plant the damn tree already.

What’s the worst thing that can happen if you jump into action?

People don’t like what you have to say?

No one laughs at the funny parts?

I end up paying too much for my email service? Or too little?

Plant the damn tree. Yeah, you might not dig the hole at the exact right depth. The sapling may lean a little too far to the left despite your best efforts to straighten it.

Fuhgeddaboutit.

Your 20th blog post is always going to be way better than your first. And because Robbie finally planted that tree, he now gets to kill a bunch of them to publish his book. (But save a tree and read the e-book instead.)

I started collecting emails about 14 months ago and—hey!—they multiplied like rabbits. I’ll be moving them to a bigger digital hutch soon. And this time, I’m not sweating the decision.

I’m just gonna keep planting trees.


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Networking: A tale of two titans

My story about the revolutionary truth about networking begins:

It was the worst of times; it was the best of times.

Yes, I know that’s not the order Charles Dickens used. But I met my first Titan under circumstances so stressful that when I happened upon a news story about the event several years later, I actually had a bout of PTSD. In terms of my business life, it was definitely the worst of times.

Back then, I didn’t have time to worry about the Titan’s reputation or fame. I was just head-down at my desk, doing the best work I could in an impossible situation. Fortunately, that “best” impressed him.

If we’d met under any other circumstances—at a cocktail party or (shudder) a networking event—I might have been just another fangirl, searching frantically for something intelligent to say. But in these circumstances, he met my work first. And that said the intelligent things for me.

Buffett Photo

When I picked up the office phone the next morning, I heard:

“Hello, Elaine? This is Warren Buffett. Did you write this thing?”

I had. He liked it. Over the six months we worked together, “the worst of times” turned pretty darn good.

Networking like a fangirl

I met the second Titan in much more relaxed circumstances: A friend and I bought tickets for a Broadway show featuring an actor we both adore. [Let me pause for a moment to define “adore.” In my case, it means that when this man sings, I sometimes forget I play for the other team—until my friend reminds me. She’s on his team, and somehow believes that gives her “dibs.” Though the actor’s wife might disagree.]

A colleague who wanted to do my friend a favor asked if she’d like to meet the actor after the show. I guilted her into taking me along. I mean, what are friends for?

We waited at the restaurant next door to the theater. I took a deep breath as I watched him dart past the front window and slip inside. The best of times, indeed.

He greeted my friend first and then turned to me. I consider it one of the signal accomplishments of my life thusfar that when he took my hand and said my name, I didn’t faint on the spot.

Perhaps a better accomplishment would have been to actually talk to him. But every ounce of common sense flew out of my head the moment he turned his eyes on me. I sat at the table in a daze, unable to ask a single question. My friend carried the conversation, suddenly the most charming I’ve ever seen her.

Now, it’s not like I had nothing to say to the man: we even have a (different) friend in common! We could have had a lot to talk about. But I was star-struck and dumbstruck. Easily the worst two “strucks” you can combine.

I connected well with Mr. Buffett because our conversation began on solid ground: we were talking about work, at which we both excel. But with the Actor—well, I acted like a fangirl because I was a fangirl. I completely forgot about the many very interesting other facets of my personality.

The revolutionary truth about networking—and thank you, Dorie Clark, for reminding me of this—is that it’s nothing more than having conversations with people you want to talk to anyway. Whether they’re one of the richest men in America, a man with one of the richest voices on Broadway, or the John or Jane Doe sitting next to you at a dinner party, we’re all just people. With a vast range of interests. It’s just about finding a way to connect…and then connecting.


Discover how to communicate courageously (except perhaps when meeting your favorite actor) and use your story to connect with and move your listeners. Register for my free webinar “The Courage to Communicate”—Wednesday November 30th at 8pm Eastern, 5pm Pacific.

The “Scottish play” of writing

Last week, I wrote about that mythical state called “writer’s block.” Mythical? Yes.

I refuse to acknowledge that it exists. Borrow from Oscar Wilde and call it “the process that dare not speak its name.” Or borrow from superstitious actors and theater-lovers everywhere and call it the “Scottish play” of writing. (See the history of the theater superstition here – though some people have banned the word altogether. I have a friend not employed in the theater whose assistant said it once, and my friend told me a key piece of office equipment promptly broke.) Call it any number of things, but don’t call it a “block” because then it becomes a problem. And who needs more problems?

Anyway, the subject came up twice the other day and I am very pleased to discover that I am not alone. Prolific best-selling author Dorie Clark told me that she doesn’t believe in it either. And I just listened to Tim Ferriss interview Seth Rogen and his writing and producing partner Evan Goldberg. Goldberg thinks it’s bunk as well.

Now that’s not to say they haven’t been stuck from time to time. Rogen and Goldberg said it took them a year to come up with the third act of their movie This is the End. But it’s not like they just sat there staring at the script for a year. They put it away and worked on other projects. They wrote what they could, trusting that either they’d find a way to end the movie or the movie wouldn’t get made. Either way, presumably, they’d be good with the outcome.

And those are the keys here: Being willing to wait. Being unattached to the outcome.

Think about blocks we encounter in the physical world, like doors. If they’re closed and locked—and you don’t have the key—they make a quite effective block,

You can scream and pound your fists on the door, but that won’t make it open. Or you can take a step back and look around. Eventually you may notice that the house has windows, too. Maybe one of them is unlocked. Or maybe you can throw a rock through it and get in that way. Many possibilities, but they only reveal themselves at a distance.

So breathe. Take a walk. Start another project. Write something immensely silly.

And stop calling it “writer’s block.” I think I have a better name: “writer’s process.”